This year, for our anniversary, my boyfriend and I wanted to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at a restaurant that neither of us had been to before. While I am the one who has more of an adventurous appetite, I knew I had to pick a place that would be a great experience for both me and my pickier boyfriend. When I heard of Baxter's American Grille opening in our area, I thought it would be the perfect place to try for our special celebration.
We decided to have our anniversary date night on a Friday night at 7 p.m., no doubt when Baxter's would be at its prime time hustle. I made sure to make a reservation beforehand, but I did not expect the parking lot to be full when we got there. There was no room to park anywhere close to the restaurant, so I had to park behind a restaurant nearby and hope to not get a ticket (I didn't). When we went inside we were greeted by three hostesses and were seated right away to a half booth in the middle of the restaurant. Although it was a busy Friday night and the restaurant was full, our experience felt intimate. We were able to hear each other and communicate as if the restaurant wasn't full of people and it was never too loud or distracting. We appreciated this very much, on this occasion especially.
To start our meal off, we first ordered drinks and an appetizer. I ordered off the intricate martini menu and chose a drink called The Blushing Lady ($8), while my boyfriend ordered a glass of the Greystone Cellar cabernet wine ($7). My Blushing Lady martini included fresh muddled blackberries, raspberries and lemons, Pinnacle Red Berry Vodka with cranberry juice and lemonade and topped with a sparkling red wine. It was the definition of a "girly drink" (even in the name), but it's presentation was classy and the taste was more tart than sweet, which I enjoyed.
For our appetizer, we chose the Tuna Tartare which was marinated in cilantro-lime and wasabi and served with crispy wontons ($11). This was the only appetizer on the menu that we would both enjoy while also trying something new. It came out in a beautiful presentation with dots of hot sauce and topped with a lemon. The Tartare did include chopped up avocado and cucumber, two foods that my boyfriend does not prefer to eat but I do. We did a good job of separating what was mine and his, but I wish the menu would have told us more of what was in it. The tuna was fresh and tender with a little sour and spicy due to the cilantro-lime and wasabi marinade. The dot of hot sauce was a nice addition that we each tried to include in every bite. It was a perfect appetizer that satisfied us but didn't leave us too full for our entrées.
For my entrée, I decided to order the Pan Roasted Ribeye ($27) which came with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed asparagus. My boyfriend ordered the 14 oz. NY strip with roasted garlic steak butter ($27) and chose the garlic mashed potatoes for his choice of potato. Each entree came with the choice of soup or salad. One soup was available but there were three salads that we could choose from. I chose the Greek salad and my boyfriend ordered the spinach salad without the diced tomatoes, red onions and dressing (I told you he was picky!). I really enjoyed my Greek salad, particularly the oregano and lemon vinaigrette that it was drizzled atop. We both appreciated that Baxter's served side salads that were way more than the iceberg lettuce and crouton concoctions that we have had at other restaurants.
I have to admit that our entrees did take a while to be served to us. This was mainly because of the obvious busy time of a Friday night rush, but also because our waiter had misheard my order and thought I wanted the Pan Roasted Chicken instead of the Pan Roasted Ribeye. When he realized what had happened, he was very apologetic and made up for it by not charging us for our drinks and charging us for the chicken instead of the ribeye on our bill, which was $10 cheaper. But even with the mix up and extra wait time, the end result was worth it.
My Pan Roasted Ribeye was outstanding. Cooked the way I like it (medium rare), topped with a sherry wine glaze with shallots, roasted corn and tomatoes. It was one of the most memorable steaks I have had in a long time. My boyfriend also thoroughly enjoyed his NY strip. He decided to go all out and add the Oscar Style to his steak, which included crab and asparagus with a hollandaise type sauce ($8). He is the major steak eater between the two of us, so the fact that he was also very impressed with his steak was a great accomplishment.
By the time we were finished with our entrees, our waiter asked if he wanted dessert. We both were so full at that point that we originally wanted to say no, but when the waiter mentioned that we would get a free dessert since we were celebrating our anniversary, we couldn't say no. We decided to order the Gooey Butter Cake and we did not regret it. It was a gooey butter cake topped with caramel syrup and a mint leaf and served with a side of chocolate ice cream with fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Wow. This dessert was fantastic and very sweet. It tasted like we were eating cake batter instead of a cake, which if you have had gooey butter cake before, you may know. But we had never had anything like it before, so it was a sweet surprise. The ice cream and berries were a nice addition to take a break from the sweetness of the cake and balanced it out.
We had a wonderful time at Baxter's American Grille for our anniversary date. We were able to enjoy each other's company even on a busy Friday night and treat ourselves to a wonderful meal. We will definitely be making a trip back to Baxter's soon, if only for more gooey butter cake.
Baxter's American Grille is located at 100 Trade Center Dr, Champaign,and open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. For more info, check out the restaurant's Facebook page.
All photos by Brittany Busboom.